Newsletter Interview with Signals

Signals analyses new trends and tech for founders and executives who are busy running a business, and have more decisions to make than available time. Each memo-style newsletter is tailored to it's audence by getting directly to the point - opening with a clear problem statement followed by a clear set of solutions at the very beginning.

Each episode features dozens of useful links to save readers the time of searching the internet themselves, allowing them to pick what they need and keep moving with their businesses.

The research is summarized in an easy to follow format, with sections outlining the Pros and Cons of different solutions, a Cases section for bite-sized case study overviews, and a Resources section to point you in the right direction.

Can you give some background on yourself, your newsletter, and how and when it came about?

I'm actually a naval architect turned into data/AI enthusiast turned into an entrepreneur!

So long story short, I worked in the shipbuilding industry between the years 2013-2020. I got to travel around the world and met some amazing people. Had good career growth for many years, but decided to take a break from the corporate grind in the start of 2020. I got interested in data/AI topics, studied on my own and ended up in an IT company doing some Robotics Process Automation projects.

While studying, I realized that there are so many new paradigm changes, business trends and tools popping out every week. Data, automation, AI, remote work, no-code all have the power to revolutionize whole industries. I thought: "Who's tracking all of this? Who's making sense of all this and trying to analyze it?" Well, there's definitely companies for that. Gartner, Forrester and other research companies. But their services can also be very expensive.

So, I thought: there's so much info on all of this online. I could just start doing some research of my own. And there must be founders, business owners and CxOs who don't have time to do this but also don't want to spend 20k$ or 30k$ per year on research. I could just use my time to dig the important stuff up and condense it. There must be value in that, I thought.

...there must be founders, business owners and CxOs who don't have time to do this but also don't want to spend 20k$ or 30k$ per year on research.

So after a few months of going back and forth and trying to find the time to do this, I just went for it in December 2020 and launched Signals.

I rearranged my professional life so I could dedicate enough time for researching. It's only been a month now but what a month! Definitely some of the most interesting times I've had during my career. And I'm proud that I have 5 reports already out.

You mention the ability of no-code, ADI, and other automation tools to change entire industries. Do you think there are any industries that are particularly far behind, or have a lot of growth potential in these areas? Any areas that you see as over-saturated?

I often see in my research that agile tech firms and large enterprises are the ones riding first on a wave of change. And that's only natural. Tech firms usually have the courage to try alternative solutions and enterprises have the big budgets.

But I think the game is changing up. Solopreneurs and small businesses have a better chance than ever to gain advantages from new trends. Hybrid work means that it's credible not to have a physical office anymore. Talent platforms allow you to build on-demand teams. Online training platforms give you the ability to learn anything in a matter of weeks. No-code allows non-tech founders to build software and solutions. So if you're smart, there's a ton of ways to gain an unfair advantage fast.

...if you're smart, there's a ton of ways to gain an unfair advantage fast.

And the best part? I think most people outside the tech bubble are clueless. So there's a real chance of doing things smarter than your competition.

What is the current subscriber base of your newsletter like?

I have around 100 subscribers at the moment. Not a huge number, but a solid start in 1 month. I really believe that the quality of subscribers matters. So I'm happy that I have engaged subscribers and an open rate of around 60-70% for each issue. Growth is definitely on my to-do list but not at any cost. I want to continue building slowly and steadily and keep pushing out content that is relevant to my readers.

I publish 1 report per week.

How have you gained your subscribers to date? Are there any tricks you have used to grow your newsletter?

A few different tactics.

I actually avoided the common strategy of trying to get all friends and family to join first. Simply because I want to attract my correct target audience from the beginning. And in my case that's founders, entrepreneurs, business owners and executives. To summarize:

- Putting out GREAT content around the internet. This isn't fast and can't be measured easily but I know it will pay dividents in the long run.

- Personally messaging people who I know are my target audience and would be interested.

- Joining the pockets of social media where these people hang out (Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Reddit subreddits, Indie Hackers. Twitter I still have to master though). Posting valuable content on these groups.

- I also tried some cheap ads. Reddit is great for that. But I wouldn't recommend spending more than around 1-5$ per batch on these. I prefer going the organic way. Anyway, I definitely got some subs from these.

- Started a newsletter mastermind group with 8 other people. Got them as subs but more importantly get to share this crazy journey with them!

- Right now I'm going to the direction of trying to leverage other people's audiences. I think this is a wise strategy. It really only has to play out once or twice and it can really make a difference. If you think about it, sending personal messages for people will only get them to join. But if you can get an influencer with a 50K audience to share your work, it certainly scales.

What has been the hardest part of building your subscriber base so far?

It's like they say, momentum is hard to start. So I'm still very much in the grinding phase when getting subscribers. Being visible on social media, contributing to discussion forums, contacting blogs, podcasts and other influencers for promotions and so forth.

But it has also been a lot of fun. You run into so many interesting people and conversations. And I think that is really the best way to convince subscribers to join. I always try to add value in some way. Give insights, talk to people, be that guy who knows stuff and is known to be within reach when needed. I think that will definitely compound in the future.

How do you come up with new ideas for your newsletter?

I spend a lot of time reading business and tech news trying to spot the on-going larger paradigm shifts. My readers might have noticed that I tend to go for the bigger picture, covering not just a niche topic or one specific tool but a larger trend that is happening in the corporate world (examples: hybrid work, automation, mental wellness). The underlying idea is always to pick a topic that companies could use to a) increase revenue, b) cut costs c) rationalize and streamline their way of doing things.

I tend to go for the bigger picture, covering not just a niche topic or one specific tool but a larger trend that is happening in the corporate world

Besides news, I follow other researchers and their predictions (Gartner/Forrester/IDC), social media, business/tech influencers and so forth.

I feel like choosing topics in my case is not that hard, I just have to eyes open and see what's happening.

How much time do you put into writing each article? Is most of the time spent on writing and editing, or researching?

Definitely research. My value proposal actually states that I will do 30+ hours of research on a topic and summarize it in a 5-minute report. My full weekly process looks like this:

1. I go through a list of reliable and high-value sources and pick the most interesting reads (quality newspapers, forums, research databases, industry guides, podcasts, YouTube). This usually gives me 15-30 high-quality pieces to read/listen/watch.

2. I read through each one and try to pick up 1-5 interesting points and write them on paper. I prefer paper over computer as you can't just copy & paste. Forces you to summarize more, if that makes sense.

3. Only after reading through everything and forming the initial notes I start to write stuff on my Mac.

4. I usually end up with a good draft with 1000-4000 words. I refine it to 500-700 words.

And then I hit publish.

Are you making any revenue? If you are not yet charging, do you plan to charge a subscription in the future?

As of right now, I have not monetized my newsletter yet. I definitely plan to roll out premium reports in the near future. That will mean even more content (around 2x or 3x) per report for those founders and business owners who want to go that one bit deeper when researching a given topic. As I told you above, a lot of content gets edited away since I want to keep the basic reports short. So just including more of those gems will definitely make the reports even more valuable.

For me, the North Star is that I want to provide the best possible value. So whatever the monetization model will be, I want that the customer can get a ROI of 10:1, 100:1 or even 1000:1 based on the insights that I provide.

Having said that, I think I'll always keep the basic reports 100% free.

Monthly subscriptions are one model that I'm looking at, but I feel like there's some subscription fatigue in the air at the moment. So I'll probably monetize just per premium report in the first phases. Life time deals for founding members and annual subscriptions are also something that I'm considering.

What do you think is your best article so far?

I think Signals #3 - Talent Platforms definitely scratched some kind of an itch on LinkedIn. It got well over 100k views and a good half a dozen people messaged me to know more. Other articles haven't gotten close to those numbers so far.

Personally, I really liked to write Signals #5 - Mental Wellness. I was really struck by how deep-rooted and wide the mental health problems are in our current corporate life. And how the solutions are simpler than we think. While writing that piece, I also reflected on my own impostor syndrome and how millions of others must have the same feelings... so writing that was a journey on a personal level as well.

Have you found any patterns in your readers preferences?

I don't have too much data at the moment, but I do believe brevity works. But there has to be value in that brevity. So if you spend 5-10 minutes reading my report, you should get enough insights to fuel you for the next weeks or months. So I definitely believe in giving the readers lots of value in a short period of time.

What are your future plans for your newsletter?

Keep pushing out insights on interesting business trends and adding value to my readers! So I'm not going to change things too much. I love reading and researching this stuff anyway. So I'd probably do it even without the newsletter :-)

In addition to that, monetization is definitely on the roadmap for me in the next 1-2 months.

Do you have any words of advice for anybody thinking of starting a newsletter?

Concentrate on producing valuable content above all else. Reserve 50% of time for promoting and growth. Join communities for peer support. Empires are built one subscriber at a time.

Where can readers find you on social media?

You can follow my journey on Twitter: @sarkka_timo.

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